Diving in Jardines de la Reina

With a chain of 250 virgin coral and mangrove islands. Sharks are one of the main attractions you can see everywhere.

Marine Park

The Cuban Government has created several agencies to protect the environment, among which we can find the National Park Ranger Service; the National Commission on Environmental Protection and the Rational Use of Natural Resources (1977); the National Environmental Education Program; the Academy of Sciences of Cuba and the National Commission for the Protection of the Environment and the Conservation of Natural Resources. As of 2000, Cuba's most pressing environmental problems were deforestation and the preservation of its wildlife. The government has sponsored a successful reforestation program aimed at replacing forests that had gradually decreased to a total of 17% of the land area by the mid-1990s.

Endangered species in Cuba include the Cuban solenodon, four species of tree (banana) rats (jutías), two species of crocodiles (American and Cuban rombifer) and the Cuban tree boa. In 2001, 9 out of 31 mammal species were considered threatened. Thirteen out of 137 bird species were also in jeopardy. Seven out of 105 types of reptiles were dying out, along with 834 plant species of a total of 6,000. The ivory-billed woodpecker, the Cuban red macaw, the Caribbean monk seal and Torre's cave rat have become extinct.

Crocodile
American crocodiles. Endangered species in Cuba

The National System for Protected Areas of the Republic of Cuba has put forth a proposal, after detailed studies on the values of the country’s biodiversity, to establish the nation’s areas of greatest ecological, social, historical and cultural relevance. This is to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of the Cuban biodiversity, considering it a priority within the National Environmental and Development Program. It also shows the commitment of the Cuban State to use part of the Convention on Biological Diversity. This system is composed of 236 units, 79 of which are protected areas of national importance, with the rest being considered locally relevant.

The Republic of Cuba, with a population of 11.24 million, is the largest island in the Antilles, separating the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico to the north from the Caribbean Sea to the south. It is 1,250 km. (775 miles) long and ranges from 40 km. to 160 km. (24 to 96 miles) in width. The country consists of more than 4,000 islands and keys; nearly 6,000 km. (3,600 miles) of palm- and mangrove-lined coastline; almost 300 natural beaches; three major mountain ranges with numerous interconnecting ranges; rain forests and broad, rich and verdant, fertile plains and valleys dotted with tall, stately palms. The climate is moderately sub-tropical with an average temperature of 24.6°C (76.3 F): 25°C (77 F) in summer and 22°C (71.6 F) in winter.

The island is completely surrounded by thousands of kilometers of coral reefs containing the most diverse variety of corals, fish and other marine life to be found anywhere, with steep walls dropping from reefs to the abyss.

Coral reefs
Cuba is surrounded by thousands of kilometers of coral reefs

More than 150 species of Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean fish abound in Cuban waters, from the majestic marlin, swordfish and sailfish to bonefish, tarpon, shook and permit found on flats and in estuaries, with snappers and groupers on the reefs. Tuna, cobia, mackerel, sea trout, jack and barracuda also proliferate. Socio-economic development blends into the conservation of the environment. These protected areas are organized into management categories comprised within the National System.

More than 20 systems of caves and caverns can be explored throughout the island. Some of these have rivers or groundwater caves connected with the sea. Many of them treasure ancient native pictographs, all with their unique living species.

In addition, there are seven special regions of sustainable development, composed of the country’s four mountain ranges (Guaniguanico, Guamuhaya, Sierra Maestra and Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa), the Zapata marshland and the Canarreos archipelago and flat grassland. Among the protected areas of national importance, the foremost are 14 national parks, 25 ecological reserves, 6 Biosphere Reserves (Guanahacabibes, Sierra del Rosario, Ciénaga de Zapata, Buenavista, Baconao and Cuchillas del Toa), the cultural landscape of Valle de Viñales (valley) and Desembarco del Granma World Heritage Site.

The special regions of sustainable development and the Biosphere Reserves are not included within the management categories of the National System of Protected Areas. But through its economic expansion, potential, national and international relevance of its natural values and fragile ecosystems, they are closely related to the system. The group of protected areas, including all its alternatives and management categories, accounts for approximately 22% (1,400,000 hectares) of the national territory. In Cuba, Nature’s wonders like the blind fish can be found living in crystalline waters of underground lakes in karst caverns of Pinar del Río, the westernmost province. Other truly charming species are part of the Cuban ecosystem, such as dazzling snails called polymita and the smallest frog on the planet (Eleutherodactylus limbatus, less than 1 cm. in length), the tiniest hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae or zunzuncito, 63 mm.), rare and beautiful orchids and extraordinary butterflies with transparent wings.

Cuba is, indeed, an ecological paradise with favorable settings for nature and ecotourism lovers. Actually, it is possible to take advantage of its immense wealth and ecological diversity.

Bird watching, flora and fauna in general, photo hunting, a relaxing horseback ride or sailing rivers on typical boats are all great ways to become acquainted with Cuba.

“Avalon is committed to providing environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible diving. We do not condone the mishandling, feeding or harassment of marine life, while encouraging every visiting diver we entertain to approach their diving with the same attitude. Our staff will consistently display these sentiments and behavior in order to protect the very special environments that we operate in, as they are totally focused on preserving the beauty of the natural underwater surroundings in both Cayo Largo and Jardines de La Reina.”

Diving at Jardines de la Reina

The “Gardens of the Queen” are located 60 miles off the southern coast of Cuba.

This archipelago comprises a chain of 250 virgin coral and mangrove islands extending along 75 miles of turquoise waters. Jardines de la Reina was declared a Marine Park in 1996 – and with the support and management of Avalon, along with the Research Center for Coastal Ecosystems in Ciego de Avila and the Fisheries Control Department, this area has been preserved for future generations as an intricate network of untouched marine ecosystems that have been regarded by many knowledgeable scientists and organizations as a benchmark of the original status of coral reefs as found by Christopher Columbus in the early years of his discovery.

The underwater paradise is all that comes into your mind when you first enter the water, imagining the vertical walls covered with brightly hued sponges, huge boulder star corals (Montastraea annularis), black corals extending the branches in the contrasting blue water, many species of gorgonians, fragile laminar corals (Agaricia sp.) showing its beautiful shapes through crevices, canyons and caves built throughout thousands of years of invertebrate development, turning tons of calcium carbonate into architectural masterpieces.

mangroves
Nearly 6,000 km of mangrove-lined coastline

The mangroves provide an incredible nursery area for young fish populations, filtering the water that goes to the reef together with the seagrass (Thalassia testudinum); and, in return, getting protection from the energy of the open ocean waves, all interconnected in a very fragile network that keeps its variety, richness and splendor intact.

The largest populations of adult fish in the Caribbean, such as sharks, snappers, groupers and jewfish of up to 400 pounds, are an everyday experience. Sharks are one of the main attractions you can see everywhere. You can easily dive with 6 different species; namely, silky, reef, lemon, blacktip, great hammerhead and nurse. From July through November, you will have a chance to swim with whale sharks.

Grouper
Groupers and jewfish of up to 400 pounds in Jardines de la Reina
Tiburones
In Jardines de la Reina you can easily dive with 6 different species

Avalon Diving Center is the only operation of its kind in the area, and hosts no more than 700 divers per year. Dive sites are well protected from the winds and sea currents. Visibility is more than 40 meters.

Avalon diving centers

Compressors
2 BAUER KAP-15 and a Coltri compressor 32
Tanks
180 12-liter aluminum INT connection tanks - (DIN with adaptors) + 30 12-liter steel tanks with DIN and INT connections.
Diving modules
20 diving modules – Cressi-Sub to rent
Diving capacity
50 divers
Closest hyperbaric chamber
Hospital Naval (Havana)
Avalon Diving Centers
In our Diving Center there are new compressors and diving modules

Diving spots that have been discovered to date: 80 spots, all well protected from wind and marine currents. We have 14 instructors (CMAS/SSI/PADI) on hand, one of which speaks Russian.

Modern skiffs are used to organize excursions to lagoons and boat rides through mangrove channels around the archipelago.

Some of the most prominent dive sites are detailed hereunder

Pipín

At the mooring buoy, the reef is 15 meters deep, forming impressive canyons and caves that run perpendicular to the coastline until they reach 24 meters of depth at the edge of the drop-off. At this point, the reef is very colorful and alive, with huge schools of grunts patrolling the border of the abyss; many jacks; silver tarpons in groups of 10-50 coming straight at you and then making a swift turn 5 inches away from your mask, along with turtles, eagle rays flying near the wall and sometimes a lonely three-meter-long great hammerhead coming up from the deep to take a quick look at the divers and then disappearing into the blue. In the meantime, as divers go around the canyons, a group of 10-12 silky sharks keep swimming close to the surface near the boat; then, during the safety stop, they come to get an eyeful of the divers.

Farallón

This is one of the best dives in Jardines de la Reina. Farallón is a giant coral mountain 17 meters deep at the top and divided into four parts by tunnels that run across and end at a white sandy bottom of 29 meters. These tunnels are about 30 m. long, 3 m. wide and 10 m. high, with an opening at the top that allows the sunlight to pour through, creating a spectacular show of light and shapes, giving the diver the feeling of flying across another world. Same species as in Pipín plus the reef shark (Carcharinus perezi) swimming close to the bottom.

Vicente

Dive along the drop-off, with coral mountains at the edge descending from 20 m. to 40 m. and then to the abyss (800 m.). Visibility is more than 40 meters. You can find massive black coral colonies in the wall; also, the mysterious and shy great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) sometimes emerges from the blue to show its incredible body shape and elegance.

Black Coral I and II

These two dives are the most exciting! Minimum depth is 24 meters on top of the reef, then a sandy bottom at 30 m. Channels run across the reef perpendicular to the coast, until they reach the drop-off; at this place, there is a resident population of more than 30 reef sharks (Carcharinus perezi) that get very close to the divers (sometimes 10 inches away from the mask). After 15 minutes of breathless watching at these creatures while they swim around, the dive continues close to the coral formations and sandy channels with sleeping stingrays (Dasyatis americana), parrotfish, big black groupers and tons of jacks swimming near divers until the end of the dive.

Accommodation in Gardens of the Queen

  • Our top luxury boat, perfect to accommodate 18 divers

  • Our original 110-foot double deck houseboat. A floating hotel with eight guest cabins

  • The Halcón has recently been refurbished; it is perfect for groups of twelve divers.

  • La Reina is a comfortable sixty-nine foot yacht, fully refurbished

  • Excellent boat for diving adventures, ideal for groups of ten divers.

  • The newest of our boats: 125 feet in length, 4 decks. The Vessel started operating in April 2014

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